Here’s my story:
About eight years ago, in the midst of the very emotionally, mentally and physically draining process of separating from my husband, I awoke with some pain in my right hip. It wasn’t excruciating, just noticeable, and it made getting around a little more challenging than usual. I thought it must be a pulled muscle or something and waited for it to get better. It didn’t.
Three days later I limped into my General Practitioner’s office, and could barely lie back on her table without crying out in pain. She sent me for a CT with contrast to see what was going on. The CT didn’t show anything incredibly definitive, so they told me it could possibly be a slight avulsion fracture (from what, we have no idea) and to just rest it for a few weeks. I got crutches and was sent home.
A few weeks later it had definitely improved, and I went back to my normal life. But it still wasn’t quite right. In hindsight, it seems likely that at that time I began compensating for the residual pain in ways that would ultimately mess up many other aspects of my musculature, without me having any idea of how to reverse the pattern.
Four years went by where things were OK, but not great. When I exercised the way I always had- long walks, some work at the gym, an occasional yoga class, I could feel twinges of pain again in that hip, as if it just couldn’t really keep up. I tried pushing harder, but that seemed to make things worse. Rest was helpful, but only until I started exercising again.
I went to a bone and joint specialist who said it could be any number of things- snapping hip syndrome, impingement, a labral tear… he took Xrays and did an exam. He said my hips looked fine on the Xray and sent me to a PT. He clearly was of the “I have no idea, but let’s try everything one thing at a time” school. He said that if PT was unsuccessful, we could try steroid shots.
The PT gave me some exercises- clamshell, bridges, crab walks, leg lifts. I did them for a few weeks and noticed the pain getting worse. I was back to limping slightly. I took a break for a few weeks, felt a bit better, and then tried them again to the same effect. I went back and explained what was happening. She modified the exercises and added one more, and I tried again. Same issues.
I quit PT. But I didn’t want the next step- steroid shots- after reading about how they eventually degrade the situation even if they initially help with pain. So I didn’t return to the bone and joint doc. I rested again until things started to improve a bit. But they always seemed to reach a plateau that wasn’t quite where I needed to be.
Around this time I also developed a frozen shoulder, which made me do even less physical activity, gave me greater imbalances in my body, and took a long time to resolve.
I knew the PT had felt that my problems were caused by weakness, so when I was able, I resolved to do things to get stronger that didn’t hurt like the PT exercises had. I tried to get back to my regular yoga classes, but every time I did a class with lunges (which was most of them, naturally), I would feel worse in my hip afterwards. At that time, a close friend was diagnosed with ovarian cancer, and wanted me to be her weekly hiking buddy through the chemo ordeal, so I stopped doing yoga and went walking with her instead.
We walked every week for two years, and over that time, my right hip got worse and worse. Uphills began to make me grimace in pain. I tried squeezing my butt and thigh muscles to make them work harder and get stronger, but this seemed to backfire. By the time we got back to the cars at the end of our hikes, my hip was so tight and painful I could barely lower myself into the car. It would take me three or four days to stop limping again. But I wanted to be a good friend, so I kept going.
During this time, I decided it must be mental. After all, my father had died suddenly 8 years prior, my marriage had failed, the man I then loved was not emotionally available to me, my friend had cancer, I was a single mom raising two difficult boys- it made sense that I would have stored some rough emotions in my body. So I bought a book which taught EFT tapping and listened to the complimentary program. I tried to tap the pain away. Some days it did make it feel better, but it would always regress. After half a year, I gave up hoping for permanent relief.
My sister, who had some neck issues that were resolved by a woman doing cranio-sacral work, sent me to her practitioner. She was nice and I cried a lot, and I actually felt better for a few days after each treatment, but after a week, the pain was always back, sometimes worse than before.
I could no longer exercise much at this point, and had to tell my friend that I could only join her for the very end of her walks, on flat ground, and slow. Her warm-downs. And even that hurt quite a bit.
I was on the internet constantly, reading in chat rooms and following comment threads about people with hip pain- every day I Googled: hurts to drive, hurts to stand from sitting, hurts to get out of a car, hurts to go uphill. But it was hard to settle on a diagnosis- one day my pain would match the symptoms of trochanteric bursitis, the next, impingement or IT band issues, the next, labral tears, TFL pain or hip flexor issues. I went around and around, self-diagnosing one condition, then another. This was due to the fact that my most painful spots did not seem to stay consistent, but moved (or compounded) over weeks or months from one place to another and back again. This was aggravated by the fact that the internet was far from consistent in diagnosing one kind of pain as just one type of problem.
And whatever the diagnosis would have been, the stories on the internet were not hopeful. There were no sure fixes to be found. Most people had been through the cascade of doctor interventions with little success, most were just suffering every day like I was. Very occasionally someone would feel like they were diagnosed correctly, and get some kind of help that worked, but it was rare that the help was a permanent solution. Many more had awful experiences being guinea pigs and ended up with even more pain and dysfunction. It was scary.
At one point I was directed to a website with a product which was a heat wrap you plugged in and wrapped around your hip, with some kind of extra magnetic thing inside. It had a money-back guarantee, so I tried it. Three times a day I spent 30 minutes to an hour with this thing. No change. I asked for my money back. They said I probably needed to do it less, so I tried that. No change. They said I should try to do it more, and alternate with ice. I tried that. No change. Eventually I was able to get my money back, but my spirit was not buoyed by the experience.
I went to a chiropractor. My neck felt a bit better, but my hip did not respond as kindly.
I got a standing desk. I tried an exercise ball for a chair. I tried working on the laptop from my bed. I tried various stretches and home remedies. Nothing helped.
All this time, people I spoke to about it (friends, doctors, chiropractors, pilates and yoga instructors) were busy diagnosing me with everything under the sun, but no one had any great ideas about how to prove any specific diagnosis, or how to effectively treat me. I felt that if I could just put my finger on the actual problem, I might have a better chance at solving it. But who could help with a correct diagnosis?
I heard about a medical intuitive who could do phone consultations, so I made an appointment. He told me that my hip pain was caused by an undiagnosable (by medical doctors) low-grade case of shingles, and gave me many herbs and vitamins to help my body rid itself of the virus. I took them for 6 months. I stopped eating meat, eggs, corn, and a host of other things (I already don’t eat gluten or dairy), and while some days I felt it was helping, there was no lasting relief. I called back and was told that because of my stress level, it would probably take another year to clear. Yeah, well, when you can’t exercise or live your life normally, stress is kind of hard to get rid of, but I started meditating, which was nice.
I began to feel again like I had to find something to help me strengthen, as my legs were looking worse and worse, especially that right side butt. I joined a gym and started swimming gently, and doing some elliptical machine work. Everything felt a little better, except that hip. Eventually I was back to limping after each workout, so I stopped.
I decided I just needed to rest it and it would get better. Rest and meditation on healing. It did help me stop limping, but as soon as I started trying to be active again, the pain would return. And now it was affecting my sleep as well. I couldn’t lie on my right side anymore, and lying on my left still put a strain on my right. I bought a knee pillow, and began sleeping like that. It seemed to help for a week, and then not as much.
I tried some other natural remedies that promised instant relief from joint pain, but the only one that seemed to help at all was turmeric. I do still use that on occasion, because it has only ever felt helpful, but it still didn’t resolve the issue. I had to do more.
I found a stretching program that involved contracting while stretching, which was recommended by Oprah and promised to speedily resolve issues like mine. I did it for a few weeks, but did not feel it was helpful. Only that it was at least giving the rest of my body something healthy to do. But my frustration grew and grew that I could not use my lower body the way I wanted to without worsening things, and had to modify everything. Nothing was helping my hip at all.
Dating was miserable, because after sitting for the length of a meal, I’d have to get up slowly and just stand there for a minute, pretending to stretch or slowly putting on a jacket, to disguise the fact that I could no longer just stand up and start walking immediately. Getting out of a car, I’d have to gentle my right leg over to the doorway, and then pull myself up using only my left leg and my arms, stand there for a minute while I let the muscles in my hip joints straighten out and get their bearings, and then finally I could begin to limp toward my destination. Going up stairs required a handrail, and eventually, only using my left leg for the step up.
At one point I had to drive to a conference about 7 hours away. It was so painful I could barely walk after driving, and then I had to drive home after two days, another 7 hours. I stayed in bed for two days after that, just trying to get back to a normal level of limp. This was untenable. I was not ready for a walker at 48, but it was starting to look really helpful.
I decided to give conventional doctors another try. After all, I reasoned, they saw hundreds of people every year just like me, so they must know how to make things better by now. Or at least tell me what’s really going on.
I started with another visit to my GP. She said it sounds like it could be a labral tear and suggested an MRI with contrast. From all my research, I already knew I wasn’t interested in going the surgical route at this point, so I questioned her about the use of doing that very expensive test, and whether it could even possibly lead to any other healing option than surgery. She wasn’t able to offer much hope or encouragement in that direction, or even much information about people getting better from these sorts of things, so I declined the test.
I questioned my OB/GYN about it at my next check up. I know she deals with a lot of stuff in the pelvic region, has a lot of anatomical knowledge about how things work there, so I was hopeful she could shed some light on the subject. She said, “Could be osteonecrosis- we should keep an eye on things”. That was the first I’d heard of that horrible condition, and after a bit of Googling, I decided to try to put that one out of my mind.
Next I went to an orthopedic doc who did some light manipulations, reviewed my CT from all those years before, and asked a few questions. He offered shots to help determine where the pain was coming from, but I declined. He decided that it was probably FAI of some kind, and sent me to a friend of his who was in the business of helping runners with injuries, and who knew a lot about hips.
She was great. She did some deep massage and trigger point therapy, which was very painful but seemed to help. When the help wasn’t lasting, she said we ought to try dry needling. The first time she did it, it was like a miracle. I walked out of there with no pain at all in my hip. I got into my car, drove a few miles and got out with no pain. I jumped a few times, to see if I could locate the twinge, but it was nowhere. I was so happy. It was the first day without pain I’d had in 7 years.
The next day I felt a slight twinge. The day after, more. And so on, and so on. But she and I felt we were onto something. This was proof to me and to her (who described the feeling of the tendons and muscles in that hip as “ropey”, and suggested it felt something like a shoulder feels when it’s frozen), that it was a muscular issue, and not a bone issue/labral issue requiring surgery. I was so hopeful, because it was the first time I had a sense of direction.
We did a few more sessions of dry needling, but it was never again quite as effective and the positive effects never held for long, and it hurt a lot, so eventually we just went back to tissue massage. Sports tape. A few PT exercises and a rubber ball. And things were OK. But again, the plateau, and I was reaching a financial issue as well after all these years of dumping money into the problem. My insurance didn’t help with her at all, so I eventually stopped going. And got worse again. It was very frustrating to have found something that helped a little, but that would require a constant stream of money and time to continue.
But she had helped me understand much more about the complex anatomy of the hip, and had given me a few extra tools for my future internet searches. I began to Google the things we’d talked about the most- TFL, glute medius, hip flexors, and I came across the amazing and talented Matt on a Youtube video talking about the Nasty Bastard TFL. I began learning more about his ideas, his philosophy and his solutions, and something just clicked for me. I bought the FAI Fix program.
I printed out the required booklet, put it in a binder, and followed it to the letter. The first day was a little painful. I’d had a questionable relationship with my foam roller in the past, but being more careful about listening to good pain signals and bad pain signals from my body, I proceeded to work through the tissue work and the stretching exercises. That was all I could manage the first two days, and then I added some glute reactivation. And things began to shift by the third day. By the end of the week I could raise my right leg up to put my sock on without contortions. By the end of the next week, I could raise my right leg and place it on a stair going up without wincing. These things had been impossible before. I followed the program for two weeks solidly, then moved to doing it mostly just in the morning, but often adding the tissue work alone in the evening if I felt like it was necessary. And the change was remarkable. It all made sense to me- the years of over- and under-compensation from all those many muscles and structures in my hips and back. The way the program let me find the areas I needed to address to get things working together normally again. What a huge mental and physical strain was relieved for me by doing this work and seeing the results. I finally felt hope again.
I decided to test things out and see if the pain all came back if I stopped doing such a long version every morning. It didn’t. I was gleeful. I started gentle walks with my friend again, and found that as long as I did at least the tissue work when I returned or felt things begin to tighten, I’d be fine.
Months later, not even being particularly diligent with my practice, just using it as needed, I walk with no limp, I get out of the car with no problems, I can walk uphill with my friend again, I can sleep, and I can do stairs almost as well as before the whole problem started. My life is mine again. But I realize that I need to stay conscious of activating my glutes and using the right muscles for the right jobs. And I have much more work to do to get as strong as I was before this whole thing began. To regain balance in both sides of my body. But now I have my confidence back about my ability to heal, and I’m ready. And this time, I’ll be even better, because even though I had tried some of the elements in this program separately before with only sporadic success, the combination of tissue work, stretching and reactivation in the right order and on the right areas is what made this recovery possible, and I feel sure it is what will serve me well for the rest of my very active days.